Could I really be holy no matter what?

Lately I’ve been mulling over the Course’s teaching that we are holy no matter what. In the Course, the word “holy” means basically the same thing it means when we use it to describe, say, Mother Teresa. It’s not the watered down “wholeness” that we often redefine “holy” as, but a kind of profound ethical purity, which is so pure it is literally divine.

Yet set right next to the teaching that we are holy is the Course’s teaching that our behavior in this world comes largely from our ego, which the Course describes in demonic terms.

This contrast—between my holy nature and my typically unholy behavior—is what I’ve been mulling over. The problem, of course, is that we see a character trait like holiness to be entirely determined by our behavior. If holiness expresses through my actions, I am holy. If it doesn’t, I am not. Has anyone ever described Hitler as holy?

What I have been realizing is that I have been maintaining both sides, without appreciating their conflict. On the one hand, I have loved practicing the “I am holy no matter what” side. That, after all, is the main thrust of “I am as God created me,” which has long been one of my favorite ideas in the Course. On the other hand, my main sense of self clearly comes from what I see come out of me. And what I see come out of me is not holiness. I observe far too much of looking out for number one. And these observations register in the pit of my stomach as mini-sentences from a condemning jury. At this point, I have nearly fifty years of those mini-sentences trailing along behind me.

Clearly, only one of these sides can be right. Either my holiness was determined by God and I can’t make a dent in it, no matter what I do. Or my degree of holiness is in my hands. It is a self-made trait, determined by my actions, and therefore its needle constantly goes up and down with each thought and word and deed.

What is helping me is that I already have the concept of major aspects of my identity being out of my hands. The family I was born into, my gender, my basic temperament, and certain basic abilities—all of these I see as givens. I see them as basically unalterable by anything I could do. How likely are my actions, for instance, to change my gender? How likely are they to change my parentage? I am trying to see those questions as being the same as this: How likely are my actions to change my fundamental holiness?

The payoff of really getting this strikes me as immense. If I can understand in my bones that I am holy no matter what, then it means my past mistakes are irrelevant. They say nothing about who I am. They are gone and can cast no shadow on my future. It means I can shrug off my present screw-ups, too. I can more easily correct them on the outside, knowing they haven’t made a dent on the inside. And it means I don’t have to worry about my inevitable future mistakes. Basically, it means I can be carefree in the face of my fallibility. It means I have completely forgiven myself.

I feel like this idea is sinking in a little ways. And I thought that writing about it would help that process along in me, and maybe in you as well.